When the winter winds start howling, it can feel like you have to give up fashion in the interest of staying warm. But you don’t have to resign yourself to blue lips and frostbite just to look cute this winter. Learning how to wear winter layers like a fashionista keeps you warm without looking like a giant marshmallow. Check out our winter layers fashion tips before your next winter outing, and you may start new winter trends in your area.
Why Layering Works
Layering is one of the best winter wardrobe tricks. Why do layers work so well? Layering builds up warmth with several thinner layers instead of one thick, bulky layer. The pieces work together to create depth for a much more fashionable look than you would get with a single piece. You get more mileage out of your wardrobe pieces, since you can use lighter pieces from other seasons to create layered warmth. Another perk of the layered look is the ability to shed layers if you find yourself in a warm situation. Choose layers that work on their own if you need to remove a top layer to stay cool.
The good news about layering is there are no rules, which means you can create a unique look that is all you, and no one else will be wearing it. That freedom can also feel intimidating if you don’t have much experience with layering. So much of layering comes down to experimenting to create a look that you love. If you’re still a little nervous, we have some guidelines to get you started on winter layering.
Layering generally comes in distinct phases, including:
- The base layer: This first layer sets the stage for the entire outfit while creating the first layer of warmth. Choosing a versatile base layer lets you get creative with your other layers.
- The middle layer: Next, you add the additional pieces that start building visual interest. These middle layers also pile on a little more warmth to fight off the winter chill.
- The outerwear: If you spend any time outdoors in winter, you need a fashionable outerwear plan. This is the layer that keeps you from getting frostbite.
- The accessories: Every fashionable outfit needs accessories, even when you’re worried about freezing. Those finishing touches complete your look and let everyone know you haven’t abandoned your keen sense of fashion — freezing temperatures or not.
When picking elements for each layer, you want to create depth and visual interest without creating a distracting, busy look. Each layer should complement the others for a cohesive look without being too boring.
Start With a Slim Base Layer
Your base layer sets the tone for your entire winter outfit. Your first instinct may be to start with a warm, thick layer, but the opposite approach is one of the best cold weather fashion tips to remember. A thin, fitted base layer keeps your entire outfit from looking too bulky and helps you retain your natural curves, even as you pile on additional layers.
What makes a good base layer? Here are a few suggestions:
- A thin, fitted, long-sleeved shirt: The long sleeves give you full coverage on your arms, which helps lock in your body heat. A lightweight fabric keeps the base from being too thick and bulky while also keeping you from sweating big time when you’re in a toasty indoor space. The fitted silhouette gives you that natural shaping that helps you still look cute even with the layers.
- Tight, fitted pants: We’re not suggesting you go uncomfortably tight, but having a fitted look on the bottom keeps your legs looking slim. Options that work well include leggings and slim-fit jeans. Some leggings even come with a fleece lining for an extra touch of warmth outdoors. If you opt for jeans over leggings, consider a pair of warm tights beneath the jeans. By themselves, the tights wouldn’t keep your legs very warm, but when paired with jeans, they give you just a bit more warmth.
- Warm socks: Don’t forget to keep those toes toasty. A pair of warm socks is essential in your base layer. Make sure your socks aren’t too thick and bulky, as that can make your boots fit a little too tight.
This base layer provides a basic line of defense against the chilly temperatures while keeping you from overheating once you make it indoors. The thin base layer gives you plenty of additional layering options depending on your personal style and the temperature where you live.
Consider Your Top Layer Options
In many winter weather situations, the lightweight long-sleeved tee isn’t enough to keep you warm. Adding other pieces to the look solves that chilly situation. You can pair these options with your tight-fitting base layer or with one another to get the perfect winter look.
Top layer options include:
- Tunics: The long length of a tunic provides more protection against chilly winter winds. Long tunics also pair well with leggings, since they give you more coverage over the tight bottoms.
- Turtlenecks: If turtlenecks give you flashbacks to your childhood, don’t panic. While the high necks often have a negative connotation, turtlenecks add an artsy look to your winter wardrobe. They pair well with collared jackets and give you a little added warmth around your neck.A snug fit typically looks best if you want to try out a turtleneck.
- Chambray Blouses: Collared button-downs give you a cute, casual look when paired with your base layer. They also look great layered under cardigans or sweaters. The collar adds a fun focal point to upgrade your outfit. Chambray blouses add a hint of color and texture to spice up the look, but you can wear a button-down shirt in any color to create the layered look.
- Cardigans: The cardigan is the ultimate layering piece for casual and office wear. Cardigans are generally fairly thin, so they fit well under a jacket, yet they give you an extra layer of cozy warmth. The cardigan is a great layer to use when you want to add some color to your look.
- Sweaters: If you don’t like the open look of the cardigan, opt for a sweater as an upper layer. When choosing a sweater, opt for a fitted style to avoid a bulky, shapeless look. Cable-knit sweaters work well because the texture adds depth. A shorter sweater lets your base layer shirt peek from the bottom for a fashionable touch.
- Vests: Another upper body option that keeps you warm indoors and outdoors is a vest. You can find many fashionable options outside of the puffer style that often comes to mind. Pair the vest with your other selected long-sleeved upper layers as the final top layer. Vests even work well with your winter dresses.
Don’t Forget Bottom Layers
You already have on your leggings or skinny pants, but you don’t have to stop there for your bottom layers. One simple trick to adding warmth on your lower half is to top your tight-fitting pants with a skirt. You won’t want to wear a skirt on its own in the winter, but when paired with the pants, it gives your lower half just a bit more warmth.
The key to this look is to keep the proportions on point. Too much bulk or length in the skirt feels too heavy. Opt for a skirt that hits above the knee so plenty of your legs still show. A somewhat full look to the skirt balances out the tight fit of the pants.
You can create a similar look by popping a dress over your base layer. A sweater dress gives you a warm, wintery look, but a summer dress can work just as well. The long-sleeved base shirt under a short-sleeved dress keeps you warm and adds a fun depth to the outfit.
Choose the Appropriate Outerwear
The key to choosing outerwear is striking a balance between style and warmth. A bulky parka keeps you warm, but it hides your body in a mass of fabric. In some climates, a winter parka may be the only safe option, but if you live in a slightly warmer climate, you can pull off a few different outerwear options.
Including a few different styles of coats and jackets in your winter wardrobe gives you versatility based on different outfits and the specific temperature on a given day. A military-style coat gives you warmth with more structure than a puffer jacket, for example. Oversized or cocoon-style coats are also in fashion and make it easy to cover your layers without feeling stiff.
Other things to consider when choosing different styles of coats for versatility include:
- Length: Choose at least one longer jacket for cold days to give your body more protection. Add a shorter coat to your collection to create a structured look and to incorporate different lengths in your overall outfit.
- Material: The fabric type plays a role in both the warmth and the look of the coat. Wool gives you a completely different look than leather, for example. Faux fur is a fun and warm look to jazz up your wardrobe. When choosing multiple coats for your winter collection, opt for different fabrics to keep your wardrobe interesting.
- Color/Pattern: Don’t be afraid to add a little color to your winter outerwear collection. Your coat is the first thing people see when you’re outdoors in winter. Let your personality show by choosing a bold color or fun pattern on your jacket.
One fashionable option is to drape a cute jacket over your shoulders instead of putting your arms in the sleeves. The jacket still wraps you in warmth, but it has a stylish edge to it. When you pair this method with warm layers underneath, you stay toasty when you venture outside in moderate winter temperatures. You can even pair it with a lighter jacket, such as a buttoned denim jacket, to really up the warmth factor. The shoulder method also makes it easy to transition from outdoors to indoors. All you need to do is slip the jacket off your shoulders.
Another outwear option is to pair a thin vest with a jacket. The vest adds warmth, so you can get away with a lighter jacket. Test the outerwear layering outdoors before you leave for the day to ensure your look will actually keep you warm enough.
Keep Your Feet Toasty With Winter Footwear
When you think of winter footwear, boots instantly come to mind — and with good reason. The boots protect your legs from cold winds as you traipse through the wintery outdoors. Plus, they look cute indoors and outdoors.
Over-the-knee boots provide the greatest protection for your legs, which is particularly useful with leggings that don’t offer as much warmth on their own. They also make a bold addition to your outfit. If you aren’t comfortable with such a tall boot, opt for a shorter version that hits below the knee. You still get the fashionable finish and a warm way to cover up your feet.
A neutral color boot works throughout the winter with almost any outfit. If you want a little variety, choose a few different neutral-colored boots, such as black, gray, navy and brown.
Add a Few Finishing Touches
The finishing touches on your winter outfit can make the difference between boring and catwalk-ready. Several accessories also help keep you warm. Try these pieces this winter:
- Scarves: This one is a natural go-to accessory for the winter months. Scarves are still very much in style, and they keep your neck nice and warm. On bitterly cold days, opt for a thick, chunky, warm scarf for insulation. The scarf prevents heat loss and provides warmth to exposed skin. For warmer winter days, you can go for a lighter scarf that serves more of a fashionable purpose.
- Belts: Some days, you just need lots of layers or a warm jacket to survive. A simple tip to give your body shape when you’re rocking the heavy layers is to use a belt. Many winter jackets come with belts for just this purpose. You can add your own belt if your jacket doesn’t have one. Belts also work well for your indoor winter layers. Belt a loose-fitting sweater or cardigan to emphasize your body shape.
- Jewelry: You may be focused on warmth, but jewelry adds the crowning touch to your winter outfits. Wear a statement necklace to pop against your top layers. A layered look for your necklaces makes an even bigger impression. Choose necklaces of varying lengths and with different decorations to create an eye-catching look. A fun, bold pair of earrings make your ears sparkle as you go through your day. Don’t forget your favorite bracelets and a stylish watch to finish off the look. They may not be noticeable when you have your winter coat on, but they will make your outfit pop once inside.
- Faux Fur: Whether on a jacket, vest, hat or gloves, a bit of faux fur goes a long way toward accenting your winter look. It’s a playful option that also adds a lot of warmth.
- Gloves: When the temperature really starts to drop, you need warm, cute gloves to protect your fingers. Covering your extremities can make you feel much warmer overall. Find a fun pattern or bold color to make your gloves interesting. Look for gloves with a slim profile instead of a bulky, heavy look, but try out the gloves first to ensure you can still move your fingers freely. Gloves with touch pads let you still use your electronics while keeping your hands fashionably warm.
- Hats: In the midst of the winter chill, you need something to cover your ears. A hat provides the most protection, keeping warmth from escaping through your head. Choose a fun style that becomes a fashionable accessory to make the most of the need for warmth. If you’re not a hat person or don’t want to deal with hat hair, slim ear muffs or a headband that covers the ears is an alternative.
An important factor in creating your fashionable winter layered look is balancing your outfit. If you use big puffy layers on top and bottom, you tend to look frumpy and larger than you really are. The key is balancing the bulk. If you have loose-fitting top layers in your outfit, stick to a fitted bottom, such as leggings or slim-cut jeans. If you choose looser fitting pants with a somewhat baggy style, choose a thinner fitted top look.
Tips for Learning How to Layer for Winter Fashionably
You have your core winter layering pieces. You have the finishing touches to push the outfit over the edge of the fashion scale. Putting it all together is the final piece of the winter fashion puzzle.
Use these final tips for putting your winter look together:
- Raid your own closet: You likely already have several pieces that work for winter layering. Since you add multiple pieces to the ensemble, each individual piece doesn’t need to be super warm or thick. In fact, thinner layers pair better to prevent the bulky look. Many summer and fall pieces work well in winter when layered with other pieces. Pair a short-sleeved shirt with a cute long-sleeved base layer, or wear a summer sundress with thick tights and a cardigan. Darker colors tend to work best in winter.
- Use color: Don’t give in to the urge to go all black in winter. Instead, break it up with at least one piece in a contrasting color. Add a white sweater with black skinny jeans and a black jacket, for example. The color is a great way to bring life to your outfit and create separation.
- Mix up the fabrics: Just like choosing all one color creates a boring look, using all the same fabrics and textures creates an uninspired outfit with a heavy look. Mix up the look by choosing fabrics with different textures. You might pair patent leather with softer cotton, for example.
- Include patterns: Make your winter outfit fun with prints. Stripes and plaids work well with winter wardrobes. The prints help create a focal point in your outfit, and they break up boring solids.
- Note lengths: When you start layering multiple pieces, the lengths of the individual pieces become a concern. Altering the lengths can create a flowing, cascading effect, but you don’t want the cascading effect to make you look larger than you are. One way to combat the overwhelming effect is to keep the bottom layer snug to create the contrast. Another option is to use a top upper layer with a cropped length for structure.
- Choose a focal point: Too many attention-grabbing layers and accents can make your winter outfit seem too over-the-top. Instead, focus on one main element, with other layers complementing that piece rather than competing with it.
- Limit layers: You may think more is better, but too many layers can leave you feeling overheated and bulky. Stick to around three layers for the best balance. The three layers keep you warm but also allow you to move around easily without looking like a giant marshmallow.
- Mix and match pieces: You don’t need lots of complete outfits. Instead, focus a few key pieces that you can mix and match with other wardrobe pieces to create different looks. For example, you can pair a turtleneck with a favorite sweater. Later in the week, use that same sweater with your favorite chambray blouse. A solid neutral pair of leggings, jeans or pants pairs well with almost anything in your closet.
- Get creative: The best way to decide what goes well is to simply try it. Pull out all of your key pieces and play dress up. Try things even if you don’t think they will go well together. You might be surprised at what you come up with by being a little adventurous with your layers.
Are you ready to nail your winter layering fashion but don’t have the key pieces to pull it off? My Sister’s Closet Boutique has just what you need to look like a fashion guru without getting frostbite on those cold winter days. Start shopping now to build your winter layering wardrobe.